A recollection of Hallowe’en past, and a Youtube video that still packs enough power to scare your pants off:
From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!
Hallowe’en’s been sanitized.
Packs of kids who used to roam free in the darkness, masked and costumed, sometimes (if they were big enough and bad enough) armed with cans of shaving cream and cartons of pilfered eggs, now are trailed through twilight at a discreet distance by hypervigilant parents. Towns organize parades of the littlest kids for a safe and orderly celebration, and if it doesn’t actually fall on October 31st, in the French phrase, tant pis. Tough.
The rowdiest that Hallowe’en rituals get these days is probably the extraordinary goings-on in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, where processions of gorgeously costumed gays and lesbians and transvestites and straights and anybody I’ve left out cavort around the town with an abandon and flourish which usually occurs only in the springtime in Catholic countries, at Carnival.
IT BEGAN AS SAMHAIN
Back in the “olden days” when I went trick-or-treating, the holiday was not as far removed from its Celtic origins as Samhain (pronounced sow-in, for some inscrutable Celtic reason), a night when the world of spirits erupts into our world, a night when the dead return and roam the earth, and the ancient Celts lit bonfires and donned costumes to ward them off. Hallowe’en is a motley holiday anyway, and at some time Samhain conflated with the Catholic holiday of All Saints, the Hallowed Ones, hence the eve before was All Hallows’ Eve, hence Hallowe’en.
Not only did the Celtic dead return to earth on Hallowe’en, then, the Catholic Saints now did so as well — but only on the morning of All Saints’ Day. On All Hallows’ Eve, the Devil encouraged the dead souls to rise from their gaping graves and overrun the earth and revel wildly until the midnight church bell rang, and the Devil was forced to withdraw, and the ghosts had to return to their graves, and the world was safe again for another year.
WHO LIT THE BONFIRES?
I’m not saying we knew all this, or believed it. But! Our costumes did lean heavily toward ghosts, witches, skeletons, and ghouls: a kind of homeopathic medicine perhaps? We, well behaved middle class Brooklyn children, never lit bonfires ourselves. But somehow or other there was always a bonfire somewhere, and “trick or treat,” even from the likes of us, contained an underlying threat. We roved in the darkness far from home, ringing doorbells, flinging flour, half-scared, half-scornful, and hoping we scared others.
Well, Mischief Night too has been tamed and transformed. But you can experience something of the wildness and menace that we felt in this YouTube clip, made at a time when the tiger that was Walt Disney enterprises had teeth, and could bite, and did.
Here, to the music of Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, is a clip from Fantasia, the unequaled, the unparalleled. Even for today’s jaded children, used to vampires and monsters of all kinds (too many right out of real life) this can be pretty strong stuff. You are hereby cautioned.
And if you’re in the mood for an unexpected ghost story, I’ve got one waiting for you here.